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A triumphant human spirit

Local soldier a Korean War hero

The Wilson Sports-Fitness Center honors the actions of Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Benjamin Wilson. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

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Hell cannot triumph over the human spirit.

Born in 1922 on Vashon Island, Benjamin Wilson grew to personify the above words.

After dropping out of Vashon High School, he joined the Army in 1940 and eventually was stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. After the attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, he was sent to Officer's Candidate School and trained to lead men into combat.

That did not happen.  Despite multiple requests to serve in a combat unit, the young lieutenant served as a training officer.

At World War II's end, he resigned his commission and returned to Washington to work in a lumber mill.

Not liking the work, Wilson returned to the Army. With a surplus of officers after the war, the Army did not need another lieutenant.  Determined to reenter the Army, Wilson enlisted as a private.

His prior experience led him to rise through the enlisted ranks, and at the onset of the Korean War in 1950, he was the first sergeant of I Company, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.

The hell of the Korean War would soon meet Wilson's spirit.

On June 5, 1951, Wilson and his soldiers were ordered to take the well-defended Hell Hill overlooking the Hwachon Reservoir.

He led from the front, and as I Company moved up the hill, it faced intense enemy fire and was pinned down by Chinese forces, allies of the North Koreans.

Not willing to wait, Wilson single-handedly charged a machine gun bunker and killed the four Chinese soldiers in the emplacement.

Moments later, he led his men on a bayonet charge through a unit of entrenched enemy soldiers, killing more than 25 of them.

The Chinese forces soon counterattacked, using their numerical strength to overrun Wilson and his company.

As the enemy bore down, Wilson staged another one-man charge, killing seven of the enemy and sending the rest fleeing.

I Company doggedly continued its assault up Hell Hill, and as it did, Wilson was wounded, placed on a stretcher and carried off to receive medical attention.

Not for long.  When the medics put him down, he got up and returned to the fight to provide cover for his men as they withdrew.

The Chinese pressed the attack, and at one point the fighting turned to brutal hand-to-hand combat. In the melee, Wilson's rifle was wrestled from him.

He drew his entrenching tool and killed four more Chinese soldiers.

Wounded a second time as I Company slowly withdrew, Wilson continued to provide covering fire for his men.

Four days later, I Company again engaged the Chinese in close-quarters combat.  Pinned down by enemy fire, a wounded but patched up Wilson led another charge directly at the enemy.

Those who knew of Wilson's prior actions on the 5th quipped to him that one Medal of Honor was enough.

For his actions June 9, Wilson received the Distinguished Service Cross.

On Sept. 7, 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower awarded the Medal of Honor to 1st Lt. (then Master Sgt.) Wilson.

In 1958, then Maj. Wilson was assigned to Fort Lewis, and in March 1959 he was a planner for training named Dry Hills at the Yakima Training Center.

Wilson's indomitable spirit over the hell of combat is honored in the Wilson Sports-Fitness Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord Main.

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